GERD risk factors include certain health conditions, medications, and lifestyle factors such as pregnancy, obesity, and smoking.

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Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Most people occasionally experience acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GER). However, if a person has continuous or repetitive acid reflux, this may indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

GERD is when a person’s stomach acid often flows into their esophagus. The esophagus is a tube that connects the throat to the stomach. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 1 in 5 people in the United States has GERD.

This article discusses the health conditions, lifestyle factors, and medications that are risk factors for GERD.

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GERD is a common medical condition during pregnancy. A person may develop GERD during pregnancy due to:

A hiatal hernia is a condition in which the upper part of a person’s stomach has moved up into their chest. Their stomach then pushes against the lower opening of their esophagus, allowing stomach acid to travel upward.

Having a hiatal hernia increases the risk of a person developing GERD. Almost 1 in 2 people with GERD may also have a hiatal hernia.

People with larger hiatal hernias tend to have more severe GERD symptoms.

Learn more about hiatal hernia.

Having overweight or obesity can increase the frequency of reflux symptoms. Overweight or obesity can also increase a person’s risk of developing GERD by:

  • putting more pressure on a person’s abdomen
  • making a person’s lower esophagus open more often when they are not swallowing
  • reducing the resting pressure of a person’s esophagus opening

Learn more about obesity and its causes.

Gastroparesis is when a person’s stomach takes a long time to empty. People with gastroparesis have stomach muscles that work inefficiently or not at all.

Delayed stomach emptying can increase the risk of GERD. This is due to food being in a person’s stomach for longer, which:

  • leads to a person’s stomach making more acid
  • increases the risk over time of some types of food causing acid reflux
  • leads to more food or acid in a person’s stomach, which can cause acid reflux

Learn more about gastroparesis.

People with connective tissue disorders have inflammation in the tissues that hold their body together.

If a person who has a connective tissue disorder also develops GERD, they are likely to have severe GERD symptoms.

Learn more about connective tissue disorders.

Doctors do not yet understand the exact relationship between a person’s risk of GERD and lifestyle factors. However, some factors may increase a person’s risk of developing GERD.


Smoking more than 20 cigarettes a day increases a person’s risk of developing GERD. For female smokers, their risk increases by 37%, and by 53% for male smokers.

Stopping smoking can reduce GERD symptoms and improve a person’s quality of life.

Learn about the relationship between vaping and GERD.

Drinking coffee or alcohol

Some studies have shown that drinking alcohol can cause GERD symptoms. However, other studies suggest that a person’s alcohol intake does not affect their risk of developing GERD.

Many studies link coffee drinking with GERD symptoms. However, researchers are still investigating the link between coffee and GERD. Some believe that there is no connection between coffee and GERD.

Learn about whether people with GERD should avoid caffeine.

Eating large meals late at night

Eating large meals or eating just before bed may increase a person’s risk of GERD by up to 20%. Because of this, experts recommend people eat their last daily meal 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

Learn about why heartburn might occur at night.


Some types of physical activity can increase a person’s risk of GERD. Examples include:

  • weightlifting
  • manual lifting, or carrying heavy objects
  • exercising shortly after eating

A person is also more at risk of developing GERD if they exercise less than once a month.

Dietary risk factors for GERD may include consuming:

Other GERD risk factors may include:

People should contact a doctor if they experience GERD symptoms or symptoms that do not get better with medication or lifestyle changes.

People should also contact a doctor if they have symptoms that could indicate GERD complications, including:

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about GERD risk factors.

Is age a risk factor for GERD?

Yes, a person’s risk of developing GERD increases as they age. Some research suggests that people over the age of 50 years old may be at the highest risk.

Who is most affected by GERD?

GERD typically affects older adults. However, researchers found that the condition may occur more frequently in people ages 30–39 years than in the past.

There are many risk factors for GERD, some of which a person may be out of a person’s control. However, a person may be able to reduce their risk of GERD by changing or avoiding some lifestyle factors.